By fifth grade at Daniel Dickinson, my classmates and I had a routine after school. We walked Bill home on Mygatt Street. This was less than two blocks away, and right across the street from the store, Miss Ellis’, where I usually bought red licorice “shoelaces” from her big glass case. Then to Lois’ at Mygatt and Meadow, and to Karen’s at Mygatt and Spring Forest Avenue, across the street from the cemetery, where some of my ancestors are buried.
If I were going to my grandma’s, I’d split off and head to 13 Maple. But if I were heading home, I’d walk Carol to her house on Cypress Street, then go over to Ray’s house a few doors down, which was behind another house, cut through his yard, go via the Canny’s trucking lot back to Spring Forest, down Oak Street, and back to 5 Gaines.
We didn’t always all go together, but frequently enough for Christine, my sister’s best friend in those days, to acknowledge quite recently how much she admired our group. Christine, BTW, lived right next to my grandmother, so we got to swim in their family above-ground pool in the summer. There’s where I first saw color TV, in 1962 or 1963 – Disney and/or the western Bonanza.
Starting with 4th grade, we had gym with Mr. Lewis. EVERY semester, we had to do marching drills – “column left – MARCH” – before we could do anything fun, like volleyball. I always felt he was training us to be fodder for some war.
The first teacher we had for a full year since kindergarten was Miss Marie Oberlik, who lived on Meadow Street, less than three short blocks away. She taught us how to count to 19 in Russian, which I still remember. It was in her class where we learned about JFK’s assassination.
Neville Smith was the principal of the school, a well-dessed man, as I recall, and Pat Gritman was the secretary. For a number of years, starting when i was in fourth or fifth grade, both Leslie and I went to her home on Front Street for Friday night Bible club.
My father, Les Green, would come and sing folk music at my class every semester from about 3rd to 6th grade. And he did the same for Leslie. He’d always sing Goodnight, Irene, which made some of the kids think I had a crush on the girl in the class by that name.
He DIDN’T do this for baby sister Marcia, and I remember that I went to her kindergarten class to sing. By that time, her teacher was Mrs. Burroughs.
The one time in my whole life I intentionally entered a fight was in fifth grade, when this kid Robert was pushing around David D, the one who was about a head shorter than most of the other kids. The fracas didn’t last long, though, because Mr. Frenchko, the assistant principal, and later my English teacher, yelled out of a school window and we scattered.
The drag about Robert was that he was the ONLY other black kid in my class. He was so academically challenged that he eventually failed three semesters in two or three years and ended up in the class of sister Leslie. (There’s a Stupid Crime Story I could tell you, if you want.)
Even then, I occasionally wondered if our school was getting all the resources it should. Specifically, the music book we used in Mrs. Joseph’s class, which I took for six or seven years, was ancient even then. I remember a time in fifth grade when she allowed us to pick songs, and someone called out the number for Old Black Joe, which we had never sung. We didn’t sing it that day either, as she said, plainly, “Let’s pick something else.” And a good thing too, because I was ready to walk out of the classroom.